As an African American man, the killing of Tyre Nichols is personal. While living in Wisconsin I was stopped 7 times. The last time was for not stopping at the white line before the stop sign. I came to a full stop, but not on the line. With every police encounter, I’m thinking of what I must do so I will not become another victim: Keep both hands exposed at all times. No sudden movements. Announce my actions before I make them. No emotions. “Yes, officer.” When I see the Tyre video, I realize how dangerous it is for me and all people of color just to wear ourbeautiful skin behind the wheel.

I asked Rev. Beth Brown for a response to the Tyre Nichols video. Rev. Beth Brown is pastor of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. She is also an interim commissioner on the Chicago Community Commission on Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA). Today I can’t hold it together enough for a cogent article. The following are remarks Beth made before her church, Lincoln Park Presbyterian, on Sunday:

On Friday evening when the video footage of the brutal beating and murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of 5 police officers in Memphis was released, it once again portrayed something we already know. The system of policing in this country has long been broken and is geared toward anti-black hatred and oppression. Black and brown people suffer far more at the hands of police than do white people, even when the police are also black and brown. Rather than listen to voices who are saying and will be saying that the murder of Tyre Nichols has nothing to do with race or white supremacy, listen more deeply to what you know. The devaluation of black and brown lives is baked into this country and into every system we know. It not only infects and affects white people in power, it also infects and affects black and brown people in power. 

We must also pay attention to how the same devaluing of black and brown lives has resulted in swift action and consequences for the 5 black officers. Officers who are white never receive this kind of swift action and consequences. As a white person I am committed to telling the truth about all of the ways systemic racism and injustice impact all of us. 

Here in Chicago, we have decades and decades of examples of our own police abuse and misconduct directed primarily toward black and brown people. We have units just like the Scorpion Unit the 5 officers were a part of in Memphis. Young black men in N. Lawndale call them the “jump out boys” because of how often they are harassed for no reason by them. Our units have not been disbanded or suspended, however. They are still active and on the streets of Chicago. One of the primary strategies in the city for getting guns off the street is to do aggressive traffic stops. Part of the work I am doing with the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability is focused on ending the abuses. We will not stop until the culture of the Chicago Police Department changes and black and brown people can live in peace without being harassed and abused and ignored by the police. Working toward greater police accountability in Chicago is one part of our worshipful work. 

All around the City of Chicago there are cries for more police, more funding, and more protection of majority white neighborhoods. As crime increases, the neighbors around our church are paying more than $70,000 to hire a private security firm to patrol the streets. This same private security firm hires off duty active CPD officers. What is wrong with that picture?

You can read more about Beth and her work with CCPSA in the Reader article here.

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Who’s Coming Back to Church?

I have some good news and some challenging news about what we’re learning regarding the post-pandemic church and worship patterns. The good news is that those who were committed to coming to church before the pandemic are returning to worship. Even though churches are seeing 75 – 85% of members returning, chances are that the 15 – 25% of people who are not returning were on the edges of membership before the pandemic.

The January 2022 survey entitled Faith After the Pandemic: How COVID-19 Changed American Religion finds that “very few Americans who were most active in their places of worship before the pandemic have since left. However, those who were attending infrequently—attending just a few times a year—dropped at a much higher rate.”

The people who are currently attending worship are the people who want to be there! This may translate into greater participation in mission and giving. This is also the foundation of the church that will attract the next generation of members and participants.

Here is the challenging news. For the first time since tracking these statistics, more congregations closed than were planted or started. In the online Guardian newspaper article, Losing Their Religion: Why US Churches Are on the Decline, Adam Gabbatt writes, “About 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, the last year data is available, with about 3,000 new churches opening, according to Lifeway Research. It was the first time the number of churches in the US hadn’t grown since the evangelical firm started studying the topic.”

There are many reasons a church closes. These include loss of young people, aging of congregation, death or leaving of large donors, disconnection from community, and financial decline. Over the past 4 years in the Presbytery of Chicago, we have closed or merged 9churches, reducing our membership from 89 congregations to 80.

From this article, I find at least two takeaways for our presbytery. First, our presbytery should continue our focus on creating New Worshipping Communities (NWC). These new expressions of church are the future and life of the presbytery. One of my mission priorities is to increase the number of NWCs from 3 to 6 over the next 3 years. Perhaps that isn’t aggressive enough, but it is a step toward the right direction.

Second, the presbytery along with our congregations need to develop ways to hear the voices of those young people who are outside of our church walls. How can we listen to the children and grandchildren of members who are not attending? Most are probably spiritual but not religious, which is the fastest growing segment of the population. Perhaps they can tell us what the church can do differently and where the church is missing the mark. We may also be challenged by their statements. How much is the church willing to adapt to attract the energy and participation of young people? Are we willing to adjust the Book of Order? What does membership or leadership mean to these newer generations?

Sometimes it’s difficult to look at these realities. May we have the courage to face and grapple with the challenges of adaption and change in these times.

Rev. Craig Howard

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Happy New Year 2023!

Happy New Year! Turning the corner into a new year is like being at the beginning of a long and winding road. We perceive the hills and valleys ahead. We are aware of the changes in the ground beneath our feet. but we won’t know the effects of these changes until we experience them. Just as we know that the new year will bring change, we also know that our God will be with us. God will provide (as God always has) and give us strength and resources for the journey.


2023 brings one of those milestone birthdays for me. I’ll give you a hint: I’m receiving tons of mail about Medicare! It reminds me of when I turned 55 and began getting all this mail from AARP! At first, I was resistant to that mail. Then I learned a new phrase that became part of my vocabulary and life: senior discount!


AARP was just practice for Medicare! Understanding this federal healthcare system is serious business. It can be so complicated. And it reads like an alphabet soup (Plans A, B, C, D, E, HMOs, PPOs, etc.). A mistake in plans or timing of registration can bring financial penalties and a huge error in healthcare benefits.


As a Minister of Word and Sacrament and a staff member of a presbyterian institution, I have a resource to help me navigate Medicare and Social Security. Kenneth Green is our presbytery’s Board of Pensions (BoP) consultant. He is extremely knowledgeable about health insurance, pension plans, and social security. The plans for the BoP have expanded and contain far more options than in previous years. Kenneth is available to congregations, ministers, and anyone covered under a BoP health plan. Furthermore, Kenneth is very personable and friendly. We will have him present at a presbytery assembly later this year.


As Presbyterians, we do not have to navigate the maze of Medicare alone. I encourage personnel chairs, pastors, and anyone who must work with health or pension benefits to take advantage of people like Kenneth. It will be well worth your time and a great way to start planning and preparing for the New Year. He can be reached here: 

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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Strength In Diversity

One of my Advent readings is the book, An Immense World by Ed Yong. Throughout the book the reader is treated to the amazing life of animals by unveiling their perceptual world and how they construct their environment. He writes:

We cannot sense the faint electric fields that sharks and platypuses can. We are not privy to the magnetic fields that robins and sea turtles detect. We can’t trace the invisible trail of a swimming fish the way a seal can. We can’t feel the air currents created by a buzzing fly the way a wandering spider does. Our ears cannot hear the ultrasonic calls of whales. Our eyes cannot see the infrared radiation that rattlesnakes detect or the ultraviolet light that the birds and the bees can sense.

Yong uses the word Umwelt which comes from the German word for environment– specifically the part of those surroundings that an animal can sense and experience.

He writes, “Our Umwelt is all that we know, and we easily mistake it for all there is to know. Each species is constrained in some ways and liberated in others. For that reason, this is not a book of lists in which we childishly rank animals according to the sharpness of their senses and value them only when their abilities surpass our own. This is a book not about superiority but about diversity.

Umwelt and worldview may be similar. I am an African American male, descendent of slaves, born and raised in Chicagoland, educated in a Catholic university, and a graduate of a Presbyterian seminary. It would be a mistake for me to believe everyone sees the world as I do, and my worldview is all there is to know. I am both limited and liberated by my worldview. I am not superior or inferior to others. I am different. We are all different.

As I visited congregations in 2022, I was struck by how different worship was at each church. Some churches had lighting of candles and playing of organ music, while others had drums and praise bands. Some desired preaching in robes, while others preferred more casual attire. For some preaching was the center of worship, while others focused on the prayers of the people, joys and concerns, or excellent music. Our presbytery is a halleluiah chorus of diverse churches, and we are stronger because we are different. We are better because of our diversity.

Yong argues that the diversity of life is a response to needs. Animals developed certain senses because they had to, so they could eat, mate, and survive in their environment. Our congregations have a similar struggle. Surviving in 2023 and beyond will depend upon how werespond to the challenges of COVID, and how the church relates to its community. The congregations in the presbytery may be faced with the same struggles in this post COVID world, but our responses will be as different as the communities we serve. The presbytery would like to partner with congregations as they navigate this terrain.

I believe congregations should have intentional discussions about their futures. This may mean doing a mission study (congregations should do a self-assessment every 3-5 years), attending workshop and seminars on the future of the church, or using consultants to help the session and church find a way forward. The presbytery wants to partner with you in these conversations around discernment by providing grants and other resources. I am excited for our future as we bring our unique and diverse congregations into God’s future for the Church.

Rev. Craig Howard

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Leaning Into Faithfulness

I tend to dream in repetitive themes. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of being ordained or installed as pastor of a church. But at the same time, the world is coming to an end! In one dream I am committed to serving the church, preaching and leading worship, even as fire is bursting from the heavens and flood waters are rushing down the streets! In another dream I’m doing online worship, but I’m repeating the same message over and over because the world is ending and there are no new ideas to be garnered.

I admit that I enjoy science fiction and have watched several world-ending films. I also blame first Isaiah! These apocalyptic films and readings may feed my imagination, but I believe there is a message my subconscious is trying to share and get my conscious self to see.

Perhaps these dreams are occurring because we’re coming to the end of the calendar year. It is a time to reflect on the previous year and plan for the next. And that is where the anxiety comes from. The methods and tools we have used in the past may not work for us this time. How do we calculate attendance? Will people return to the pews? Should we budget for what is pledged or what is hoped for? How can our previous attendance and budgets help track what may happen in 2023? And what about all the empty space we now have in the church?  

I may be saying to myself that the current ideas I have utilized in the past may not work in this new world. The world I know how to manage, administrate, and even minister to is coming to an end. This new world will require gifts I may not possess or skills I cannot access.

The surprising thing about these dreams is that I am not fearful in them. I am clear about my task. In the dreams I am preaching, praying, and teaching. I am being faithful. These dreams bring into focus my sense of call and commitment to all of God’s people. Even when I don’t know what to do, I can lean into faithfulness.

And that may be the nugget to wrap everything else around. If we begin with faithfulness and commitment, then fresh ideas will come, priorities will be laid out, and difficult decisions will be made. We can be faithful because God is faithful. And Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us and to be with us until the end of this age. 

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